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Massachusetts may belong to another Ivy League school, but the Princeton men’s lightweight rowing team has found a nice advantage in the Bay State over the last eight months.
The 2013-14 rowing season began in grand style, with the lightweights topping the field at the Head of the Charles in Boston. Their return was also historic, as Princeton won every race during the annual H-Y-P regatta and brought both the Goldthwait (V8) and Vogel (team) Cups back to Princeton.
A third victory in Massachusetts would be the sweetest of all.
Princeton will join the top lightweight boats in the East at the 2014 EARC Championships, held on Lake Quinsigamond in Worcester. The Tigers have won this historic event 16 times, including back-to-back titles in 2009 and 2010, and they are among a field of strong contenders this weekend.
But that field is tightly packed. Top-seeded Cornell is the favorite after an unbeaten season, while Columbia is the second seed after going 2-0 against third-seeded Princeton this year. The margin of victory for the Lions in those two races was 1.15 seconds.
Then there is fourth-seeded Yale, which lost to Princeton on the Charles River by only .3 seconds. Fifth-seeded Harvard is the three-time defending champion in this event, so disregard the Crimson at your own peril.
That makes five boats who should be no surprise if they produce a golden finish at Sprints. Thus, there should also be at least two boats who shouldn’t be a huge surprise if they leave without any medals.
Yes, welcome to another wild edition of the Lightweight Sprints.
“It sounds very cliché, but it really is anyone’s race,” said sophomore Ed Northrop, who rowed for Australia at the U-23 World Championships. “The results were mixed all season, and crews were putting down some really fast times. The two-week break between the last head-to-head race and Sprints lends itself to a lot of improvement, so you never really know what other crews are doing. My money is on the full 2000 meters being really competitive racing.”
The challenges that hurt Princeton early in the season in losses to both Columbia and Cornell came early, as slow starts left the Tigers in too deep a hole at the 1000-meter mark. That kind of start was a killer in April, so you can imagine what it would do in a six-boat field in May.
But Princeton showed growth at the Charles River when it won the Goldthwait Cup for the first time since 2009. And even with the season-ending loss to Columbia, the Tigers have shown multiple times that it can post a really fast time.
Now they need to do it when it matters most, and they have to do it in their first six-boat showdown of the season.
“You have to put a balance on focusing on your own boat and rowing your own race and doing all the things you do in practice really well,” Northrop said, “but at the same time, you can’t be completely oblivious to what is going on. It definitely requires a balance, and it can definitely be a tricky one to do.”
The V8 will open at 10:12 am needing a top-three finish in its heat (Columbia, MIT, Navy, Georgetown) to advance to the 6:00 grand final. Princeton will send four boats to the Sprints, including a second varsity that went 10-0 on the season and will be the top seed when it opens competition with an 11 am heat (grand final at 4:06).
“The 2V always represents our depth,” head coach Marty Crotty said after it capped a perfect season two weeks ago with a tight win over Columbia. “That boat hasn’t been the same week to week, but they continue to get it done. For them to beat everybody they have raced against is a great accomplishment. I am really excited for them.”
Excitement has been the prevailing theme for Princeton in its trips to Massachusetts recently.
The Head of the Charles? Check.
The Goldthwait and Vogel Cups? Check
The Eastern Sprints?